French Court Finds Google Guilty over Book Scanning

A court in France found Google guilty of copyright infringement for its unauthorized scanning of French books.  Under the ruling, the company is liable for €300,000 (about US $427,000) plus €10,000 ($14,300) per day until Google removes all of the material in question from its French index and site.  The ruling affects about 80,000 copyrighted books scanned in France.

During the past few years, France has been setting European trends on digital copyright law and policy — most recently regarding progressive-response legislation for unauthorized content uploaders.  So how will this court ruling (assuming it survive’s Google’s appeal) affect Google’s book-scanning activities elsewhere in Europe?

One clue comes from a statement from one of the plaintiff’s lawyers that showing snippets of content in search results “is a bad representation of the works.”  French copyright law contains the core concept of droit moral, or moral rights: the idea that the creator of a work has a say in how it is used beyond merely giving permission.  A creator can object to an otherwise legal use of her work on moral grounds if she feels that the usage is derogatory or otherwise objectionable.  Thus, the statement from the publishers’ attorney could foreshadow or underscore an accusation of infringement under le droit moral.  This tactic may well apply elsewhere in Europe — even in the UK, which has completely different copyright law origins from France yet which adopted moral rights in 1988.  (The US has no concept of moral rights in its copyright law.)

In other respects, France’s copyright law providers for copyright exemptions that are roughly equivalent to UK Fair Dealing and US Fair Use, thanks to the European Union Copyright Directive of 1996.  But issues of how well-established national copyright laws interface with the latter new creature of the digital age are difficult to address.  This case of French publishers versus Google will test those interfaces as the case makes its way through the appeals process.


  1. Bill, interesting thoughts. I find it doubtful that a lawsuit in Germany would have a similar outcome even though we have a very similar idea of moral rights. Also, there’s very little detailed information available about the case. I.e. in Germany there’s no scanning and making available of in-copyright books without rights holders consent. I am surprised Google is supposed to have taken a different road in France. Seems highly unlikely given the very similar legal situation.

    Anyway, what strikes me is that in so many cases publishers’ positions are a bad representation of authors’ interests…

  2. Matthias,

    Thanks for your insight into the German scene, which has gotten far less attention than France these days.

    It is indeed true that publishers and authors are often at odds; in fact the settlement between Google and “the publishing industry” in the United States is really a settlement between Google and a fragile coalition of publishers and authors. Many of the objections to the original settlement were from authors who were disgruntled over the financial terms.

    The issue driving the publisher/author dynamic is the fact that, in most cases, authors own copyrights to their books. Publishers have rights that (especially in the case of older books) are limited to printing copies of books in the country of license. The way that publishers are approaching the Google litigation definitely reflects this – it’s all about books per se, not content in the more general sense.

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